There have been several questions here about good and evil and about God/gods, some of which I might more intuitively classify as theological rather than philosophical questions. However, many great philosophers, including Plato, have discussed such matters. Are these cases of philosophers discussing theological questions (much as physicists discuss mathematical questions), or are theological questions a subset of philosophical questions? Logically, assuming nothing, I can divide the sets of questions into four:

  1. Questions that are theological and philosophical
  2. Questions that are theological, but not philosophical
  3. Questions that are philosophical, but not theological
  4. Questions that are neither theological nor philosophical

Obviously there are questions that fall into sets 3 and 4, and obviously there are questions that fall into either 1 or 2. So, another phrasing of my question would be, is set #1 empty, and if not, what are some examples? Is set #2 empty, and if not, what are some examples. I expect that the answer will be that different philosophers might disagree on this, with some making set #1 empty, others making set #2 empty, and some making neither empty, but my knowledge of philosophy is amateur, having taken only a single college course in it, decades ago.

  • Probably a good question for meta.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 13:41
  • 4
    In my first philosophy course, the Professor amusingly (and at least somewhat unfairly) defined a theologian as a philosopher who had sacrificed her mind to the altar.
    – vanden
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 14:02
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    @Joe, I think this is probably also a good question for meta, but I mean for this to address the larger non-meta question. Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 14:02
  • can you give an example of a question which may or may not belong to set #2?
    – Ami
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 17:10
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    @Ami, if I were trying to draw a line (given my limited knowledge), I might put this question in group #1: "Is there a god or gods?", this question in group #2: "How could Lucifer rebel against God?" (arguable, and note specificity to a particular sub-group of religions), and this one in I don't know: "How can a benevolent and omnipotent god or gods allow bad things to happen to good people?" Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 17:14

4 Answers 4


There are questions that pretty clearly fall into: 1), 3), & 4).

Group 2 is the problematic one as far as I can see. However, you can eradicate 1) & 2) together if you take a logical positivist view. This view holds that such questions are literally meaningless.

  • Ah, but just because questions are meaningless doesn't mean they don't exist! ;) Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 13:14
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    OK, fair enough. An example of a philosopher discussing theological questions would be AJ Ayer in his dismissal (in Language, Truth, and Logic) of theological questions as meaningless.
    – boehj
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 13:23
  • BTW, I think my answer is a very poor one. I was just 'putting something out there'.
    – boehj
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 4:15
  • well, it's the best answer so far! And, thank you for 'putting something out there'. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 12:27

Category two is the only one I see as problematic. Category one questions abound: "Is there a God" is both philosophical (concerning fundamental metaphysical questions) and theological (concerning the nature and existence of a god).

As I see it, a question is not philosophical if it assumes a philosophical framework. As an example, if I ask you "Is Brad Pitt a good actor?" I'm assuming that we share a philosophical framework in which we agree that Brad Pitt exists, that he is an actor, and that there is some standard by which we can judge some actors as good and others as not good, and that it is ethical for us to make that judgement.

This question is also not theological: the existence and nature of one or several deities is not really relevant to the question.

A trickier question might be "Does Zeus think Brad Pitt is a good actor?" I'm not sure that this is a theological question, because it sort of assumes that the theological issue of the existence of Zeus and our ability to know his opinions vis-a-vis Brad Pitt is settled. We could argue that the opinions of Zeus should be important to us, so, theologically, if we worship Zeus and Zeus favors Brad Pitt, we should all watch more Brad Pitt movies to gain favor with Zeus. In that case, this question would be theological but not philosophical, the question of "what is good acting" isn't relevant, because Zeus may have one opinion on this matter and Hera another.

An even trickier question would be "Does God (as in the ultimate arbiter of everything God) think Brad Pitt is a good actor?" If God the ultimate arbiter of everything in the universe thinks Brad Pitt is a good actor, than this defines what good acting is in reality, so the question is really "What is good acting?". In a sense, this makes any question concerning Omni-God and art a fundamental question of Aesthetics.

So it seems that depending on the nature of the theology in question, it is either trivial or difficult to ask a question that is theological in nature but not philosophical, but nothing precludes that such questions can exist.


Theres a lot of crossover between the two. Plato had a mystic side, Spinoza has been criticised for being a pantheist, Liebniz identifies the neccessary monad as God. Buddhism is both a religion & has a philosophical side. Islam has Kalam, that is theology by philosophical means.

Supposing one is born into a world-view which is dominated by gods, demons, spirits, this doesn't stop one from philosophising about them as though they are real because they are real to you and your 'people'.


There are questions that can fall into both 1) and 2)


  • Is God triune? (Concept of Trinity)
  • Did create abstract object and upholds them? (Absolute Creationism)
  • Does God has prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom? (Middle Knowledge and Molinism)
    • Is God different than nature, or one with it? (Pantheism/Panenetheism/Panenedeism)


  • Is homosexuality, fornication, adultery, etc. sinful?
  • Can women be Pope, Dalai Lama, Shankaracharya?

A philosophical question is also a theological question if it deals with nature of God or a religious idea.

In contrast a question may not be philosophical and just theological if it discusses what a specific tradition means or what does God's word means. It does not question the nature of Truth but critiques a religious idea based on some sort of agreed standard like Bible.

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